Tipping on Cruise Ships has become a very confusing concept for many, but it really shouldn`t be at all. I have worked on many diferent ships in my career. Please allow me to clarify some of the confusion.
I have worked on many different styles of ships in my career; large, small, upscale, economy, Caribbean, Mediterranean, World-wide, Scandinavian, Greek, Italian, American, German, Chinese, Russian.
On nearly every ship, the tipping system was always the same. The passengers gave envelopes of money ot the stewards at the end of the cruise. Why did they do this? It is a long standing tradition - and the cruise lines recommend that they do it this way. Most stewards on most ships earn about US$30 - US$80 per month in salary. Anything else they earn comes form tips. Why is it done this way? Who knows. It just seems to have always worked that way. Do you like the traditions of cruising? This is one of them.
On nearly every ship the procedure was always the same; at the end of the cruise we all pooled the cash we had received and then received a cut of the pool, depending on our seniority, position, and a number of other factors determined by the Maitre d`s point system. It has always been pretty much this same way on every ship. Why? It has been a tradition for a long time - and nobody ever came up with a better way to do it.
In the past few years a few of the cruise lines have tried a new system. The ship charges the recommended tip to the cabin account automatically. From the employees point of view this is great news. We no longer need to chase people on the last day. On many ships as much as 20% of the guests "mysteriously disappeared" before giving out any envelopes. This really hurt us a lot. Was the service bad - or were they just being cheap? We never knew. We just lost the money. The cruise line never knew either. Was the service bad? If so, who were the bad waiters? We knew, but our bosses did not.
With this new system, far fewer passengers leave without tipping. We make more money. We still pool the tips the same way we always did - by the point system - but now we know which waiter is not doing his share. If the guests are not happy, they don`t just disappear. They fill in a form at the front desk and name the waiter who did a lousy job. Then the company sacks him and we get better help.
We do miss the personal touch of the guest handing us an envelope with cash. It`s a great way to say "Farewell". But more importantly now, I make more than before and am better able to support my family back home.
By the way, telephone cards and $2 bills are very cute, but I really need cash to support my family. Plain old dollars are the best tip for any steward.
My wife and I merely use the phone card as an incentive at the start of the cruise to attempt better service. We always tip at the end of the cruise, but will tip greater then the standard for excellent service.
If he was dissatisfied and had the tips removed by the purser, they will ask him why. If he names a steward who did a poor job, the steward will be punished or terminated. This results in better service for the next guests.
If he was dissatisfied and just walks away, the next passenger might have the same problem with the same result. If the cruise line is unaware of a problem, it is very difficult to fix it.
We all want better service for our money. Holding service staff responsible for providing good service benefits us all.
I found it interesting that the writer, George Haswell, said that the dining staff pools their tips. I know that wait staff in Chinese and other oriental restaurants in the U.S. do this, but I'm truly surprised to learn that pooling is done on cruise ships. So much for rewarding your waiter or assistant for good service! We're frequent cruisers and never had an inkling of this. Can anyone confirm if this practice is widespread in the cruise industry? If it is, it puts tipping in a whole new light.
I don't care for the idea of pooling tips, but I'm not on the receiving end either so it doesn't matter. I didn't like the part about chasing people down. It's a gratuity not a requirement, If I have good service than I tip accordingly. He also stated that some people do provide bad service. I don't mind tipping just don't hound me.
After a few cruises you start to pick out the ones (stewards, waiters,etc.)that are really concerned with your happiness and really try to please. We (wife and friends who travel with us.) always tip more for service that we feel is a cut above the norm. I personally don't believe in tips for the sake of tipping. It is something that is given for personal, caring, extra, and unique service. You are, after all paying good, hard earned money to receive a certain amount of service. I recall the first room steward on the Regal Princess about 13 years ago. William was his name, from Manila, wife was Corinne, 2 children. We overtipped according to guidelines, but he really made a super impression on us and went the extra mile. On the first day we met him asked for fresh iced tea and extra lemons after 1300 each day and he made sure that it was there, ALONG with a fresh flower AND COOKIES. This is what tipping is about. An extra $10.00 for the matre'd after a special cake delivery to our table was enough for extra attention for the rest of the cruise from the dining room staff. Since then, sadly, occasionally, we have had to complain and withhold tips for subpar service and rudeness from a few employees encountered on subsequent cruises. Cest' la vie.and Happy Cruzin'!!!
Why is it so surprising that tips are pooled? On a ship, the crew works, eats, sleeps, and parties together as a team. That is a very important concept to them - and to the guests. Close teamwork delivers more efficient and professional hospitality services.
Did you really think that your favorite waiter set the table, plated all the food, ordered the drinks - and still had time to smile and chat you up? Of course not. He has quite a few "helpers" in the background whom you never see, making him look good and giving him the time to deliver that extra service you are expecting.
Did you think that your Stateroom Steward had time to scrub all the toilets, carry all the bags, dispose of all the garbage, pick up all the fresh linen, and a thousand other things - for all 18 cabins in his station every day, and then still have time to smile and chat you up ( and the other 17 cabins as well) several times a day? Of course not. He has many "helpers " who take care of those things so he can take care of you.
Since we find ourselves in the very traditional practice of using gratuities to pay salaries of shipboard workers, who is going to pay all those people you never see, who are doing the dirty work?
That`s why most ships pool tips.
Is it fair for the cruise lines to use tips to pay salaries to their staff? Who knows?
Is it fair that most restaurants in America use this practice to pay their service staff?
Is it fair that taxi companies do this to pay their drivers?
Is it fair that hotels do this to pay their bellmen?
There is nothing wrong with $2 Bills, so long as you plan to give more than one or two.
But bear in mind that this is a rather rare type of American currency. If a Filipino or Indonesian ship employee takes this bill back to his home country, the local bank will probably refuse to change or accept it. In most of Asia, even a regular bank note with a slight tear or a pen mark is not accepted anywhere.
To Bruce: So please tell me what the staff prefers? If I prepay tips to my account assuming staff is paid tips later do they think I have stiffed them when I leave the dining room the last night without handing them their envelope?? Seems like the ship should give passengers envelopes with a statement showing they have prepaid..I certainly would feel better about it!
I agree with ginaR. If we prepay our gratuities and let's say, for example, we want to tip more to someone for outstanding service. Do we just hand the person the cash as an extra on the last night of the cruise? Does this person then have to pool this is extra money with the other crew members? If we specifically state...we would like "you" to keep this money for yourself, then can the person pocket "their" extra money? Just a few questions to throw out there? Bruce, where are you?
Thanks for clearing up what a $2 bill is; never seen one but perhaps someone should point out that $1 coins are equally useless since foreigners cannot change coins. Main reason why I use dollar bills instead of £1 coins (yeah I'm English)
I really do think,however, that the defence of current tipping as "that's the way it has always been done" is total crap. And the idea of being chased on the last day by some waiter or steward looking for a tip would really piss me off. It is about time (or should I say way overdue) that the cruise lines started paying their staff, all of them, proper wages. I am of course assuming that the Captain and his officers are properly paid and not in the pool for tips! Adding tips to an onboard stateroom account automatically could just as easily have been done up front in the price of the ticket as it would appear Orient Lines have managed to do. I wonder how many passengers actually go along to the Pursers desk and get the recommended amount changed?
Similarly check out the recommended tipping rates, whether or not they are automatically added or not, and you will find some big differences. Cunard "charge" $11 per day yet P&O recommend half that. Cunard employ twice as many staff? Cunard pay half as much? Sorry! Of course! Cunard provide twice as good service as P&O!
Continuing an old tradition such as this should go the same way as keelhauling and lets drag the Cruise Industry kicking and shouting as they no doubt would into the 21st century. Strangely enough I would still tip for excellent service but at more sensible levels than current.
Forward to the Future!
They had better get used to pen marks on bills larger than $ 10.00. All the stores locally are using the "counterfeit pens" to mark and check all bill $ 20.00 or larger. It wont be long until they will all have the MARK ~~!!~~
Most waiters prefer the new auto-tipping system. They make more money; their weaker colleagues are "found out" very quickly by management and replaced; everyone is happier (including the guests) and wealthier.
Crew working on ships are a very close and tight team. They live, work, sleep, breathe, eat, party, win, lose, celebrate, and fail as a team. Pooling tips doesn't sound like much fun for the guests, but the staff loves it. As a passenger, are you tipping to please yourself - or are you tipping to please the people who took care of you?? Think carefully about this one........................
Yes, the cruise lines should just add the proper amount to the fares, eliminate tipping, and pay a proper wage to their employees. So should every sit-down restaurant in America and every taxi company around the world. Only a fool believes it will ever happen. There are very good - but not necessarily logical - reasons why human beings do the things we do. In a perfect world, nobody would pay good money to get on a ship that travels in a circle and drops you off where you started.
As far as dragging the cruise lines into more modern times, let's clean up our own business first, shall we?
Peeling Portuguese tree bark and using it to close wine bottles??
Mixing gin with a medicine for malaria and calling it a cocktail??
Measuring time by the distance between two medieval castles (fortnight)??
Calling your currency a "pound". What's that all about??
Measuring weight by stones??
Serving deep fried fish on an old newspaper??
Would you please answer the question as to whether the extra cash put directly into a waiter or stewards hand is theirs to keep or if it has to be pooled. I think most people don't mind doing the paying but would like to have someone who has given them that extra attention be rewarded just for them, not to be shared by all.
"There is nothing wrong with $2 Bills, so long as you plan to give more than one or two.
But bear in mind that this is a rather rare type of American currency. If a Filipino or Indonesian ship employee takes this bill back to his home country, the local bank will probably refuse to change or accept it. In most of Asia, even a regular bank note with a slight tear or a pen mark is not accepted anywhere."
So if a Filipino or Indonesian has a $2 bill can't he just turn to another shipmate and trade it for 2 ones?
Furthermore, it is a very weak arguement to say that it is just a tradition to tip and that's just how it's done. I seem to remember back in the 1860's we used to have a tradition here in the US, especially the South, about not all men being created equal (slavery). Not all traditions are good ones and worth keeping. Perhaps Carnival's next Fun ship should be called the Progressive and we could just move away from this archaic method of requiring tipping and istead pay slightly higher fare and tip only if compelled to do so. Just my buck 2.98's worth...
Thank you, George and Bruce, for your well-written and very enlightening posts.
I especially like the comment, "Are you tipping to please yourself or to please the people who took care of you? Think carefully..." I recently read a cruise review from some guy who said he hated automatic tipping because "I like to see the look of gratitude on the face of the person I'm tipping." Whoa. That's not about acknowledgment of good service. That's about control and power, with a healthy serving of arrogance thrown in.
I'm curious about how much fares would have to increase if we eliminated what someone called the "medieval" tipping system. I suspect it would be a great deal, probably far more than most of us could afford to drop on a vacation. Anyone who's worked in the industry have any idea?
Just a side note to the poster who hasn't heard of pooling tips in restaurant. I have worked in serveral nice restaurants where we pooled tips to some degree. We have to tip our busboys, and in some places the kitchen gets a percentage( including the dishwasher. It's not a complete pooling but you definatley have to " tip out" some of the other employees who have helped you ( as the waiter )earn such a nice tip. If the food is well prepared and your bus boy has cleared and watered your table then those other staff have been an integral part of makeing your dining experience so nice.
Oh yes I think that if a staff member on the ship it tipped extra then they should be allowed to keep that amount to themselves! the basic tip could still go into the pool, but at least the ones who go that extra mile would be properly rewarded!
30 years ago, there was no "envelope system." Likewise, tipping was somewhat rare, and if it did happen, it was direct. The tipping system is designed to fatten revenues, and increase profits. The less the cruise line has to pay its employees, the better.
Many of the workers aboard a cruise ship are payed miserable sums. But that's only the beginning. One website says
"Another level of social control is the onboard mafia, often found on ships where tips are expected. A waiter wanting to maximize his or her income is likely to have to share tips with a number of different folks. Waiters compete for larger stations, and for stations closer to the kitchen, by paying off the diningroom manager. Waiters may also need to pay off cooks, if they want their orders quickly, and the laundry staff if they want their uniforms cleaned on time. Similarly, room stewards often pay their housekeeping supervisor or the chief steward in order to be assigned more expensively priced rooms, where the tips will likely be bigger. They, too, will pay off the laundry staff in order to be among the first to receive fresh linens, and to have their uniforms cleaned and pressed. The ITF reports that some maitre d's have earned as much as US$20,000 a month by taxing workers' tips."
So the tipping system contributes to exploitation. Funny how a "gift" suddenly becomes a problematic issue.
Workers aboard cruise lines are almost like indentured servants.
"Sexual exploitation is one more element of social control. The cases receiving the most media attention have been rapes perpetrated by officers against “professional” staff. In one case, a 27-year-old nurse, who had been employed by Carnival Cruise Line, charged that she had been raped in 1998 by the ship's engineer while working on the Imagination. She immediately reported the incident and the engineer was promptly fired; not because of the rape, but because he had been drinking within six hours of going on duty and for being tardy. The nurse filed a suit against Carnival Cruise Line. The case was settled 15 months later, less than two weeks before its scheduled trial. "
Most ships are "floating sweatshops," and the tip system keeps them that way. People just don't understand this. Some of the luxury lines don't allow tipping, and none are expected. They pay their employees decent salaries. This should be the norm, not the exception.
I should also mention that virtually all the major cruise lines pay no taxes (they are offshore companies).
Asenath, very interesting post, and I can imagine that a waiter would like to have a bigger section or a section near the kitchen, and I bet there is a certain amount of " you scratch my back I'll scratch yours" going on.
That is very interesting info, Asenath. But it brings us back to my question: If the lines pay their people a decent wage, how do they offer fares that are affordable to the great majority of us? I'm not suggesting that the current system is justifiable in order to keep my fare low; I'm just saying I don't see a way to fix this problem without returning cruising to the exclusive province of the very wealthy.
$125 in tips for the waiter and busboy.
$70 for the cabin steward
and let's say we drink 5 beverages a day. A mix of hard liquor, beer, and soda. So to make it easy, we'll say $6 a day per person in beverage tips.
$120 for drink tips
$20 in SPA tips (if used)
So at the very minimum, we're looking at roughly $335 in gratuities. If you drink a lot, this could easily top $400.
A basic 10 day cruise on Carnival will set you back about $900 (in a small cabin). So gratuities tack on an extra 44%! You think your'e getting a cruise for $1800, but in reality, you're spending $2200.
It is my understanding that Holland America does not solicit tips to the degree that Carnival does -it would be interesting to compare prices.
Couldn't the cruise lines just not make such a whopping profit of of us and ttheir staff. I mean they ( most of the mass crusie lines) are putting out new ship after new ship so you had better believe they are raking in the dough ( which fair enough is what they are business for) , they should pay their staff a little better than slave wages, tips should be lovely bonuses, not the difference between a man being able to support his wife and kids back home.
This makes sense to me. My wife used to work as a bartender years back and seeing this first had I agree with the 'tipping out' concept. If there's no beer/ice then what would she mix up other than a smile. I'd me more than satisfied with the concept of my server splitting with his immediate support staff and some to the kitchen. It's the concept of pooling with all the other teams out there that night that distracts me. I want my money to benefit those who did right by me.